Had sight of a DWP Bulletin sent only to local auths, dated 4 May 2020, that includes –
Temporary absence outside Great Britain over 4 weeks
4. We are aware that there are claimants who travelled outside Great Britain, expecting to return within 4 weeks of leaving that are now unable to return home due to current travel restrictions both within and outside Great Britain. Following discussions with HM Treasury, we have been given permission to continue to pay existing Housing Benefit (HB) claimants who are currently temporarily absent from home outside Great Britain on an extra-statutory basis, in other words, for a reason outside of the HB legislation.
5. Regulation 7 of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/213) and the Housing Benefit (persons who have attained the qualifying age for state pension credit) regulations 2006 (SI 2006/214) has not been amended. Therefore, the usual rules on not sub-letting and having an intention to return still apply.
6. This means that people whose absence outside Great Britain is permitted for up to 26 weeks, for example due to medical treatment, continue to be entitled to HB on a statutory basis. Where their absence will exceed this period then they will also be covered by the extra-statutory payments.
7. For those HB claimants who were due to return within 4 weeks of leaving Great Britain but are currently unable to get home as a result of the travel restrictions, payments of HB can continue on an extra-statutory basis until they return.
In an annexe, in a Q&A, the DWP also says –
Q. Do I need to suspend the claim to check for return or can I pay indefinitely?
A. How you review claims should follow your usual practice but you should not suspend the claim. Payments of HB should continue to be made and the claim reviewed periodically to confirm if the claimant has returned to Great Britain. We recommend you review the claim every 4 weeks, rather than more frequently.
We do not anticipate having to make payments for more than 3 months, since the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are arranging flights to enable those stranded outside Great Britain to return. However, if restrictions on travel are extended to longer than 3 months then payments should continue until the claimant notifies you that they have returned home or until the restrictions end.
Q. What evidence do I need from the claimant to confirm they are unable to return to Great Britain due to COVID-19?
A. If someone is outside Great Britain and they confirmed they were to return within 4 weeks but then couldn’t, unless told otherwise, you will have to accept that this is due to the restrictions in place due to COVID-19.
Q. If the claimant travelled after government advice not to do so, should we still continue to pay?
A. Yes, you can still pay. This is in line with the approach for income-related benefits paid by DWP.
Q. Can I do a retrospective change if the claimant tells me after the event?
A. If you become aware of a period of absence outside Great Britain which the claimant failed to inform you about then the usual rules concerning supersession apply but consideration should be given to whether the period would have been covered by the extra-statutory payments had you known at the time.
Q. What action should be taken if the claimant went abroad for a reason which would allow them longer than 4 weeks (death of relative, fleeing violence, etc.)?
A. If you know that the claimant was due to be absent for more than 4 weeks for a reason which is allowed in regulations, then these cases are not part of the extra-statutory scheme unless the absence will exceed the allowable extra period.
NB – the bulletin ref in case you need to quote it is CLAWD9/2020.